September 26, 2012 10:52:14am
Jack Straw – A Select Review
Jack Straw – A Select Review
After reading various Jack Straw threads here, I went through and listened to lots of different versions -- including all of the recommended ones that I could find -- to identify which were my favorites. These are the notes I took along the way.
Strangely, at the top of my list is a version that I've rarely heard any recommend. As of today, my favorite Jack Straw remains the amped up version from Campus Stadium in Santa Barbara on June 4, 1978 -- that's the show where someone rolled a Harley out onstage for the beginning of NFA. Whatever. Anyway, the whole band seems a little bit altered at this show, and there is a weird energy running through most of the performances. http://archive.org/details/gd1978-06-04.sbd.cantor.miller.94407.sbeok.flac16
For runners-up, I go to more traditional choices. 12/29/77 and 1/22/78 are tied for second. I might give 1/22 a slight edge.
Jack Straw - The List
10/19/71 – Not bad for the first version ever played live. No major flubs and everybody sounds pretty together. Keith sounds particularly strong here.
11/12/71 – This one starts with lovely, lilting guitar from Garcia. Some of the parts aren’t quite all worked out yet, but this is a nice, tight version. Lots of bent notes color the vocal parts. Not really an all-timer, but good.
12/31/71 – Early versions like this one either benefit or suffer from Phil’s vocals. He sounds good here, and Garcia bends and shimmers his way through the solos deftly. Vocals are terrific, overall.
5/23/72 – A celebrated version from E72, this one starts with some sweet little Garcia riffs and, like most performances from this tour, is very well executed. Very nice color added by Jerry throughout, but the song has not yet become an exciting jam at this point.
5/26/72 – Nice ’72 version, but does not compare with later versions. Garcia sounds great but doesn’t really open up at all.
12/31/72 – Great version, with nice soloing from Jerry throughout. Still not climactic at all, but one-of-a-kind. The first really cool Jack Straw.
3/16/73 – Straws are getting real pretty in ’73.
3/28/73 – Another great one. Jerry cruises.
8/6/74 – Legendary version. One attendee says, “The show turned at Jack Straw. Something happened there.” Garcia’s lead continuation through the silver/life bit is terrific. Well-played throughout, but not as meaty as later versions.
9/18/74 – Nothing to distinguish this from lots of other great ’74 versions. Song is not fully developed yet.
5/3/77 – Jack Straw comes out of retirement. Very nice first jam. The remainder is mellow and unremarkable. These Palladium shows never seem to hold my attention.
5/8/77 – For me and for many, an iconic reading of the song. Perfect pace and strong vocals. Jerry shows such patience and care during the first, shorter, solo and the subsequent fills. This version gets the nod just for this fantastic bit of fluid guitar playing. It’s not as energetic as some, but I still rank this among the best, and it’s far better than even the night before. Best ever? Probably not, but still monumental.
5/18/77 – Nice and mellow. Not too flashy.
6/7/77 – Very interesting and coherent playing from Jerry. One of the first to feature climactic fanning?
6/9/77 – Reviewing the AUD – Jerry lays back until the first solo. Pace is much faster than in the May shows – at least on this tape. Nice full-band energy at the end. Jerry’s not trying to over-do it.
10/29/77 – Laid-back 1977 groove. Just exactly perfect sound. Great vocals from Bobby. Jerry ambles through the first solo. Pretty good, but not among the elite, in my opinion.
11/1/77 – A few sour notes. Lacks intensity.
11/5/77 – Flubbed lyric on “I just jumped..” Some holes, musically.
11/6/77 – Funky pace. Great Garcia ’77 sound. Relaxed vibe. Maybe a little too relaxed?
* 12/29/77 – Great pace and crowd response. The song had evolved just enough by the end of ’77. The first solo is dynamite the way it resonates around the hall. Jerry keeps the sparks flying all the way. Nice balance between 1977 precision and the beefed-up climaxes to come.
12/31/77 - Very good, but not as good as 12/29/77.
1/7/78 – First Jack Straw of perhaps the best year for the song. Jerry didn’t sing at this show, so Bob handles all of the Jerry parts, with weird results. He’s obviously not used to singing those lines… ouch! First solo is extended longer than normal, as if to give Jerry more to do, though it’s really nothing special. The longer solo gets pretty beefy, but I’ve heard better versions than this.
* 1/22/78 – A much-celebrated, top-tier version. Jerry sounds especially good on guitar (not so much on vocals). Soloing sounds fresh and inspired. Garcia champing at the bit the entire way and timing is right on the money. Flubbed lyric: Jerry misses “Gotta go to Tulsa..” His voice still sounds a little strained at times. Still, this is one of the best final jams ever. Never gets complacent, as Jerry turns corner after corner and nails the power chords with laser-like precision not seen in many other versions. This is the real deal.
2/1/78 – Very complete, put-together version. This one sounds a little different right out of the gate. Very nice vocals, overall, though Jerry’s voice is kind of shot. This is the ‘77 sound with ’78 coloring. First jam is understated but very nice. I don’t know how he gets that kind of sound out of the guitar. The second is also great – with more attention to bent notes and phrasing than power chords.
5/10/78 – First solo nothing special. Fun, but a little too sloppy to reach the upper tier.
** 6/4/78 – Best of ’78? Best ever? Jerry throws unique little layback riff into the first solo and never really lets go of it. Many of the songs at this show have a kind of “anything goes” feel, and this set-ending Jack Straw is no exception. This one features awkward laughter, band/crowd interaction, a little bit of everything. Garcia is simply having one of those nights. He plays with drive and precision, but still seems open to new ideas, created on the spot, without relying on the tropes that would get him through so many later versions. Listen to how the band explodes out of the climax! Listen to the way that Donna sticks it on the "cut his buddy DOWN!" part. A truly exceptional version and my pick for number one.
9/2/78 – Good, but not as good the second time around.
10/17/78 – Nice meaty version, but a little rough around the edges.
10/22/78 – Every bit as good as 10/17.
11/24/78 – Fast version. Great soloing from Jerry, but not super-tight.
12/13/78 – Tight version. The Deal follower is usually a good sign. Bubbly solo gets a little sloppy, but super-fun.
12/17/78 – Good version, but Garcia starting to rely too heavily on repetitive noodling.
12/21/78 – Short solo is perfectly-executed. Oops, Jerry repeats the “Jumped a watchman part.” Decent solo, but the recording is pretty poor.
* 12/30/78 – Starts out with a nice pace and nice vocal delivery from Weir. The SBD is a little unbalanced, but everyone is audible. Nothing remarkable at first, but by the time the big jam rolls around Garcia is dialed in. Very nice jamming! The drummers really lean into it. Inspired.
* 1/7/79 - This version is only preserved on a somewhat distant-sounding AUD, but you do get to hear a pretty excited crowd go nuts during this fantastic performance. This one actually reminds me a bit of 6/4/78 in all its laid back brilliance. There is also more great drumming here. The concluding jam features a nice variety of thoughtful bent notes, power chords and bubbly noodling that never gets too repetitive and drops perfectly into the “Jack Straw from Wichita” part. I put it near the top of my list.
1/11/79 – Noodle-fest. Frenetic, bubbly, and energetic, but not as coherent as some of the other top versions. Still great. Acid, Clive, all that.
1/15/79 – This one has real potential, but kind of falls apart.
2/10/79 – Last Jack Straw with Keith and Donna. A little slower than average for the era. Jerry still sounds haggard and flubs the vocals a bit. No “Clive” in this version. Solo is pretty off-the-hook. Lots of fanning.
5/9/79 – Impressive display of hyper-speedy playing by Garcia. Never really delivers a final punch.
8/14/79 – “Life” not “Clive.” Sub-par for the era.
9/2/79 - + for style points.
9/4/79 – Flat soundboard saps this of some of its energy, but still a fantastic jam at the end.
10/27/79 – Sounds off-kilter somehow, especially the vocals. Could be the recording. Mellow vibe. Lacks punch. Long jam, but aimless noodling is not particularly fluid or inspiring.
11/1/79 – Aud patch at the beginning fades into beautiful-sounding board. Patient start from Garcia. This is the start of a terrific month for the band and a great run of Jack Straws! This one is similar to 11/6 – perhaps a bit better.
11/6/79 – From the Road Trips series. This highly-celebrated version is the in the reverse “pair of jacks” format, following Jack-a-Roe. I don’t quite understand all the hype. Jerry belts out a lot of sixteenth notes, and that’s impressive just as a physical feat, but there are really no new ideas here, the singing is nothing special, and even Phil’s timing seems a little bit off. Seriously, what’s the big deal about this one?
* 11/9/79 – From a Road Trips release. Nice pace. Jerry prepares well for the first jam. Takes his time and lets ideas develop before the incessant noodling with sixteenth notes. Much better and more interesting jamming than 11/1 and 11/6, and the whole band sounds more together here. I like how Jerry cuts and grooves his way through the final crescendo, then falls back into chromatic soloing before the big conclusion. Ultimately this is a top tier version, with Phil electrifying everything with big bombs.
11/25/79 – Jerry is a little distracted at first, but comes around by the first jam with some nice mellow grooves. His fills on the subsequent refrain are interesting. Vocals are right in the pocket, and Phil is holding up his end. Small lyrical flub from Bob is followed by a nice jam, with Garcia picking and choosing where to play instead of relying on hyper-fast notes. A very nice version – maybe the second best of November ‘79 after 11/9.
12/1/79 – Jerry’s voice is extremely weak. First jam nothing special. Lots of mistakes, but the final jam is pretty hot. Dark horse pick, but likely not as good as 11/9.
12/4/79 – Yikes, Jerry sounds like he’s about to die. Tweaky, but not great.
12/27/79 – Standard version for the era. No “Clive.” Some nice moments. A little sloppy perhaps.
12/31/79 – Jerry falls behind a bit here. A little too sloppy for my taste.
1/13/80 – The Cambodian refugee benefit. Nothing special except that it goes into Franklin’s.
4/29/80 – Over-hyped fanning fest.
5/7/80 – Return to Barton Hall! Jerry hardly even shows up for the first solo and isn’t very active with fills. Climax is pretty good ultimately, but this is still a disappointing version.
5/12/80 – Not the tightest version at first, but Jerry wakes up and adds some great fills during the “silver/life” refrain. Jerry really opens up for the jam, using more distortion than normal (to these ears anyway – could be the recording). Jerry goes for it, and mostly nails it. You can tell how charged up they are during the final refrain. Another dark horse?!
5/15/80 – Jerry’s phrasing is in good form this week. Great focus and original fretwork on display here before Jerry takes a break and ends with a flurry of fanning. Great promise, but ultimately not as fluid as some concluding jams.
6/7/80 – Nice phrasing here. Jerry gets the pace just right and the band lines up perfectly for the big crescendo. Not perfect, but nice.
6/20/80 – Someone said this was their favorite. Lots of nice, fast soloing. A good version, but nothing extraordinary.
8/20/80 – Band sounds very “on.” Leads are fluid, not forced. Final jam is melodic and interesting, but not jaw-dropping. Awkward jump back into final refrain.
10/3/80 – Cool jamming. I think I like this one is actually better than 10/10. Sounds almost like Garcia is using his late-era faux acoustic sound. Not upper tier, but still good. Phil is amped.
10/10/80 – I love this show, especially the acoustic set. But this Straw is nothing special jam-wise. It’s pretty and has good energy, but sounds kind of aimless. Nice vocals. First solo shows promise, and there are some sparks at the end.
10/26/80 – A highly-regarded show with a nice complete soundboard recording. There’s lot going on during the concluding jam, but it sounds a little jumbled together to me.
11/28/80 – Lots of enthusiasm, but Jer sounds a little rusty after a month off.
12/28/80 – Starting to notice how much weaker the vocals (Bob and Jerry) are than earlier versions. Still, Jerry’s soloing throughout the song is lovely and builds to a nice tweaky conclusion without overdoing it. Probably one of the better versions of 1980.
2/28/81 – Nice.
4/19/82 – Nothing special.
8/29/82 – The aud of this that is available at LMA sounds too fast. Paging Joe B. Jones… There are some interesting things happening, sonically. Playing is pretty fluid.
8/27/83 – I don’t really get the hype about this version. There is some crisp noodling, but not much else.
10/20/84 – Starts sloppy but turns into a very nice version. Well-jammed and energetic. Jerry is barely able to contain himself during the first solo. Not much to hang your hat on outside of the jams, which are indeed excellent. A little wah-wah even sneaks in there. Second solo is long and fun, but a little repetitive and perhaps a little too long?
3/31/87 – Fast version or fast tape? Nice energy and execution, but not on par with 4/6.
* 4/6/87 – This one is known for Phil’s well-placed power chords, but Jerry is equally hot on this version, with lots of rock star moments. Probably the best of the late-era versions.
3/29/90 – Fast version. Well played. Between verse solo is unremarkable. Use of MIDI distracting during the final jam, quickly abandoned in favor of distortion, which works better, but does not elevate this to a top tier version. Not even close. I wonder if it’s even the best of 1990?
6/10/90 – Faster pace than I like. Mellow first jam. Directionless second jam with decent climax. Honestly, I don’t understand why this one is so popular.
9/19/90 – I wanted to include some key Hornsby era versions as a point of comparison. A lot of people seem to like his piano and vocals on Jack Straw. I personally have never like his voice that much, and in my opinion, his vocal parts make this sound almost like a cover sometimes. Still, they did seem to have fun with this one. Jerry does hand in a pretty blistering solo here – with lots of that machine-gun style playing that he sometimes used on JS. Still, this song is a vocal performance as much as anything, and I can just barely stand to listen to this in the wake of all the primo versions cited above.
6/6/91 – Vocals sound better than 9/19/90. Could be the mix, but everyone sounds a little bit better in this version to these ears. Very energetic jamming from Garcia is overshadowed a bit by Hornsby’s plink-a-plink sound. The climax is basically handed to Bruce. Sure seems like a good time, but does not compete with the best all-time versions.
3/23/92 – Fast-paced version is a pleasant surprise for 1992. Jerry throws down a very nice solo at the end with strong vocals and Jerry grinding out chords to finish it off. Hornsby is a positive factor on this one. Best of the 90s?
8/22/93 – Vince’s vocals and Jerry’s clear tone are a little painful. Jerry vocal drop-out during the “jumped a watchman” part. Evidently Bob left the stage for the second half of the song, pissed about sound problems. There is a nice long solo from Jer in the meantime, but it would be a stretch to call this a great version.
9/10/93 – The sound is really good for this one, and not too much Vince. Jerry sounds comfortable with his clear tone, thought it’s really not my favorite – especially for this song, which in my opinion needs a little more punch. Still, he nails the crescendo jam here, and things are pretty much where they’re supposed to be.